Young Heroes

Patience Silungwe: Malawi's next generation of changemakers

by Gaia Prizzon and Mohamed Sidibay from Malawi

127301Patience SilungeGaia PrizzonWhen I heard of Patience Silungwe and her mission to keep children in Malawi in school I immediately knew I wanted to meet her.

Having come from a rarely positive educational experience, she decided to work towards making that a possible reality for the thousands of children who do not have that privilege in her country. With an average student-teacher ratio of 70:1 and an education that is split between the local languages and English it is easy to understand why many children struggle to keep up and “when they fall behind they fall behind.”

127302Patience Silunge, Ivy Mtethiwa, Gaia PrizzonGaia PrizzonI went to visit the school in which Patience is currently working where I had the opportunity of meeting the headmistress Ivy Mtethiwa. L.E.A school in Lilongwe was built in 1956, and little has changed since then. As the governmental incentive to the school is just over $600 a year, it is hard to make any improvement to the original structure.

When Patience began her work here, all the 1000 students attending were sitting on the floor as the only desks the school had been provided with were for the exam room. This has been one of the projects successfully carried out through Patience’s project Ladder to Learning (formally known as Makwelero); the school now has desks for all students for the first time since it was funded.

Although children follow English as a subject during their early years in school, it only becomes the primary learning language after the age of 14. Not speaking English at home and having close to no one to one time with teachers for reading and writing as well as scarce supplies of reading materials, it is common for children to lack even the capability of spelling their names. As secondary school and university in Malawi are fully taught in English, it makes it extraordinarily hard for these children to proceed with their studies. For these reasons combined with the high poverty rate, there are very high percentages of drop out students throughout the country.

As a way to counterbalance this situation, L.E.A school has now started a program called mothers group, where women from the community, daily walk around to find the children who are not attending and bring them back to the classrooms.

Ladder to Learning took all of this at heart, believing that children who can fluently read and write have much higher chances of remaining in school, they began setting up a volunteer system to get high school graduates and university students and graduates to come back to their communities and help in the local schools.

By taking the time to help children grow from ‘word level’ to ‘paragraph level’ to ‘story level’ they are now enabling more and more boys and girls to choose to remain within the system longer.

At L.E.A  alone, Patience’s program is currently helping over 800 students have access to quality reading materials and one to one help in their learning process.

She has now managed to successfully open her first reading and resource center where as well as books, dictionaries and scholastic materials they provide coloring tools and art supplies to stimulate creativity.

Looking for alternative teaching methods to adapt better to different children with different learning capabilities, helping children participate in contests with kids from all over the country as well as taking them on out of school events are only some of the things that Ladder to Learning is doing in order to stimulate motivation and curiosity to learn within the children they work with.

Most importantly of all, they are searching for ways to provide capacity building for the teachers: “we had a situation where the school had computers, but nobody knew how to use them” Preparing children for a working world in the future requires them to have basic computer skills within their education. Training teachers first are essential to be able to then provide a chain to pass on the knowledge and information. Small technology workshops have been organized to teach both students and teachers the skills required to enter a modern workforce.

In Patiences' words “Teachers have to be the propellers of the change.”

127304Library Gaia PrizzonLadder to learning has grown from a simple volunteering project into much more. With a short-term plan to build a new Reading and resource center in another school in the city; and a long-term plan to keep on expanding through both central and rural schools within the country it is still a work in progress with plenty of room to grow and incredible potential to do so.

L.E.A has just won a grant from the minister of education as one of the best schools in Malawi thanks to an incredible headmistress who believes change can happen and a program that is trying to tackle some of the most important lacks within the system.

127305Students Gaia PrizzonI can only hope Ladder to Learning will keep on expanding and will bring what should be a basic human right to those who still do not have access to it.

Page created on 7/9/2018 1:59:36 PM

Last edited 7/9/2018 3:02:55 PM

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